College basketball | No. 1 UF men

No. 1 Florida Gators basketball team shifts its focus to SEC tournament


Miami Herald Writer

The top-ranked Gators — winners of a school-record 23 consecutive games — are assured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but for a prideful group of seniors, this weekend’s Southeastern Conference tournament won’t be taken lightly.

“It’s really important for us to focus on the moment and getting better every single day as we’ve been doing all year,” senior center Patric Young said. “We can’t let the moment be bigger than what we’re trying to accomplish.”

The Gators, winners of three of the last four regular season SEC titles, have lost two consecutive tournament championships but hope a third time’s a charm. Florida’s quest begins Friday, as a motivated team opens the quarterfinals round at 1 p.m. (ESPNU) against Missouri (22-10), who beat Texas A&M 91-83 in double overtime on Thursday.

The Gators topped the Tigers 68-58 in Gainesville on Feb. 4.

After becoming the first team in SEC history to go 18-0 in league play, coach Billy Donovan gave his players a well-deserved two days off (Sunday, Monday) before the team resumed practice Tuesday and traveled to Atlanta on Thursday.

Florida partied hard following its throttling of then-No. 25 Kentucky last Saturday, celebrating Senior Day and UF’s historic victory with a raucous postgame net-cutting ceremony.

“The biggest area for us is to get emotionally, mentally and psychologically past what happened on Saturday,” said Donovan, who explained his team focused solely on themselves this week and not any what-if opponents.

The Gators (29-2) are the prohibitive favorites to win the final SEC tournament played in the Georgia Dome, as the tournament moves to its near-permanent fixture at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee for nine of the next 11 years.

Florida’s path to its first tournament title since 2007 won’t be easy though, as the Gators could face as many as three hungry bubble teams (Missouri, Tennessee or Arkansas, Georgia) desperate for an at-large bid.

Donovan, who candidly discussed a major issue with the event’s annual setup, scoffed at the notion his team should pack it in and prepare for next weekend’s more important tournament.

According to multiple news outlets, the last team to win the NCAA Championship with a winning streak longer than 13 games heading into the tournament was undefeated Indiana in 1975-76.

Florida, a lock for a No. 1 seed in Orlando, faces a short turnaround should it reach Sunday’s SEC Championship (3:15 p.m., ABC), as the games in Orlando are slated for Thursday and Saturday.

“The one thing the NCAA has to look at is any conference that’s playing their conference tournament and it goes into Sunday, those teams, in my opinion, should not play in the NCAA tournament until Friday,” Donovan said bluntly.

“And I think our league should look at it, too. Are we better off backing up our conference tournament and ending it on Saturday? Just end it on Saturday and give everybody Sunday off and figure out who’s in the tournament and who’s not and move from there.”

But don’t confuse Donovan’s frustration with a lack of desire to win another league title.

“Our goal right now would be to try to put three games together and play in a championship game on Sunday,” he said.

“There’s not going to be anything from our perspective where you sit there and say, ‘OK, because it’s Sunday, let’s bail on this tournament early.’ We’re not going to do that. We’re going to try to do the very, very best we can if we’re fortunate enough to play three days.”

Read more UF stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">Leaping for more: </span>Florida running back Matt Jones jumps over teammate Clay Burton during the second quarter of Saturday’s game. Jones scored the game-winning touchdown in the third overtime.

    UF 36, Kentucky 30 (3OT)

    UF narrowly escapes at home as Gators struggle with Kentucky Wildcats

    Kentucky — losers of 28 in a row against UF — nearly stunned the Gators, but Florida’s electric sophomore receiver Demarcus Robinson single-handily shredded the Wildcats’ secondary for 15 catches, 216 yards and two touchdowns as UF escaped 36-30 in triple overtime Saturday night in The Swamp.

Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators yells during the second half of the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida.

    UF football

    Florida Gators’ tough win reveals problems in defensive backfield

    Florida’s inexperienced defensive backfield was shaky, getting burned repeatedly during a triple-overtime victory against Kentucky.

  • Recap: Florida vs. Kentucky

    Matt Jones scored on a one-yard touchdown run in triple-overtime to lift the Florida Gators to a 36-30 win over the Kentucky Wildcats in a SEC thriller at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category